Breakfast at Tiffany's (novella)

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Breakfast at Tiffany's
First edition cover
AuthorTruman Capote
CountryUnited States
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
28 October, 1958[1]
Media typePrint (Hardback and paperback), e-book, audio-CD
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3505.A59 A6 1993

Breakfast at Tiffany's is a novella by Truman Capote published in 1958. In it, a contemporary writer recalls his early days in New York City, when he makes the acquaintance of his remarkable neighbor, Holly Golightly, who is one of Capote's best-known creations.


In autumn 1943, the unnamed narrator befriends Holly Golightly. The two are tenants in a brownstone apartment in Manhattan's Upper East Side. Holly (age 18–19) is a country girl turned New York café society girl. As such, she has no job and lives by socializing with wealthy men, who take her to clubs and restaurants, and give her money and expensive presents; she hopes to marry one of them. According to Capote, Golightly is not a prostitute, but an "American geisha".[2]


  • The unnamed narrator-writer: a writer who relates his memories of Holly Golightly, the people in her life, and his relationship with her.
  • Holiday (Holly) Golightly: downstairs neighbor and center of attention of the writer's memoirs.
  • Joe Bell: A bartender acquainted with both the writer and Holly.
  • Mag Wildwood: Holly's friend and sometime roommate, a fellow socialite and model.
  • Rusty Trawler: A presumably wealthy man, thrice divorced, well known in society circles.
  • José Ybarra-Jaegar: A Brazilian diplomat, who is the companion of Mag Wildwood and, later, of Holly.
  • Doc Golightly: A veterinarian from Texas, whom Holly married as a teenager.
  • O. J. Berman: A talent agent from Hollywood, who has discovered Holly and groomed her to become a professional actress.
  • Salvatore "Sally" Tomato: A convicted racketeer, whom Holly visits weekly in Sing Sing prison.
  • Madame Sapphia Spanella: Another tenant in the brownstone.
  • Mr. I. Y. Yunioshi: A Japanese photographer, who lives in the top floor studio apartment of the brownstone.


In early drafts of the story Holly was named Connie Gustafson; Capote later changed her name to Holiday Golightly. He apparently based the character of Holly on several different women, all friends or close acquaintances of his. Claims have been made as to the source of the character, the "real Holly Golightly", in what Capote called the "Holly Golightly Sweepstakes",[3] including socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, actress Oona O'Neill,[4] writer/actress Carol Grace,[5] writer Maeve Brennan,[6] writer Doris Lilly,[7] model Dorian Leigh (whom Capote dubbed "Happy Go Lucky"),[8][9] and her sister, model Suzy Parker. A November 2020 obituary in The New York Times states that the main inspiration for Holly was socialite Marguerite Littman.[10]

Several women (or their agents) claimed to be models for Holly Golightly. Many were dark-haired sophisticated beauties like Audrey Hepburn, yet Capote has said his model was a blonde ("strands of albino-blonde and yellow") closer in character to Marilyn Monroe, whom he preferred for the film role that ultimately went to Hepburn.[11] A November 2020 obituary in the New York Times states that the main inspiration for Holly was Capote's friend Marguerite Littman.[10]

Capote's biographer Gerald Clarke wrote "half the women he knew... claimed to be the model for his wacky heroine."[4] Clarke also wrote of the similarities between the author himself and the character.[12] There are also similarities between the lives of Holly and Capote's mother, Nina Capote; among other shared attributes both women were born in the rural south with similar "hick" birth names that they changed (Holly Golightly was born Lulamae Barnes in Texas, Nina Capote was born Lillie Mae Faulk in Alabama), both left the husbands they married as teenagers and abandoned relatives they loved and were responsible for, instead going to New York, and both achieved "café society" status through relationships with wealthier men, though Capote's mother was born two decades earlier than the fictional Holly Golightly.[4][13] Capote was also unsuccessfully sued for libel and invasion of privacy by a Manhattan resident named Bonnie Golightly who claimed that he had based Holly on her.[4] The New York Times November 2020 obituary of Littman, who was a friend of Capote, states that she was the main inspiration for the character.[10]

According to the biographer of Joan McCracken, McCracken had a violent dressing room outburst after learning of the wartime death of her brother, while she was appearing in the Bloomer Girl (1944). McCracken's biographer suggests that Capote was inspired by this event as a model for a scene in which Holly reacts to her brother's death overseas. McCracken and her husband Jack Dunphy were close friends of Capote, and Dunphy became Capote's life companion after his 1948 divorce from McCracken. In the novella, Holly Golightly is also depicted singing songs from Oklahoma! (in which McCracken appeared) accompanying herself on a guitar, and owning The Baseball Guide, which was edited by McCracken's uncle.[14]

Publication history[edit]

Breakfast at Tiffany's was originally sold to Harper's Bazaar for $2,000 and intended for publication in its July 1958 issue. It was to be illustrated with a big series of photo montages by David Attie, who had been hired for the job by Harper's art director Alexey Brodovitch. However, after the publication was scheduled, longtime Harper's editor Carmel Snow was ousted by the magazine's publisher, the Hearst Corporation, and Hearst executives began asking for changes to the novella's tart language. By this time, Attie's montages had been completed, and Alice Morris, the fiction editor of Harper's, recounted that while Capote initially refused to make any changes, he relented "partly because I showed him the layouts... six pages with beautiful, atmospheric photographs."[15] Yet Hearst ordered Harper's not to run the novella anyway. Its language and subject matter were still deemed "not suitable", and there was concern that Tiffany's, a major advertiser, would react negatively.[16][17] An outraged Capote soon resold the work to Esquire for $3,000 ($37,600 today); by his own account, he specified that he "would not be interested if [Esquire] did not use Attie's [original series of] photographs." He wrote to Esquire fiction editor Rust Hills, "I'm very happy that you are using [Attie's] pictures, as I think they are excellent." But to his disappointment, Esquire ran just one full-page image of Attie's (another was later used as the cover of at least one paperback edition of the novella).[18] Attie's photo was the first-ever visual depiction of Holly Golightly -- who is seen laughing and smiling in a nightclub. The novella appeared in the November, 1958 issue. Shortly afterward, a collection of the novella and three short stories by Capote was published by Random House — and the glowing reviews caused sales of the Esquire issue to skyrocket. Both Attie and Brodovitch went on to work with Capote on other projects – Attie on Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir,[19] and Brodovitch on Observations, both published in 1959.

The collection has been reprinted several times with the other short stories, "House of Flowers", "A Diamond Guitar" and "A Christmas Memory". The novella itself has been included in other Capote collections.

Capote's original typed manuscript was offered for sale by a New Hampshire auction house in April 2013.[20] It was sold to Igor Sosin, a Russian billionaire entrepreneur, for US$306,000 (equivalent to US$356,000 in 2021). Sosin said he planned to display it publicly in Moscow and Monte Carlo.[21]

Literary significance and reception[edit]

In "Breakfast at Sally Bowles", Ingrid Norton of Open Letters Monthly pointed out Capote's debt to Christopher Isherwood, one of his mentors, in creating the character of Holly Golightly: "Breakfast at Tiffany's is in many ways Capote's personal crystallization of Isherwood's Sally Bowles."[22]

Truman Capote's aunt, Marie Rudisill, notes that Holly is a kindred spirit of Miss Lily Jane Bobbit, the central character of his short story "Children on Their Birthdays". She observes that both characters are "unattached, unconventional wanderers, dreamers in pursuit of some ideal of happiness."[23]

Capote said Golightly was the favorite of his characters.[24]

The novella's prose style prompted Norman Mailer to call Capote "the most perfect writer of my generation," adding that he "would not have changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffany's".[25]



The novella was loosely adapted into the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's starring Audrey Hepburn and directed by Blake Edwards. The movie was transposed to 1960 rather than the 1940s, the period of the novella. In addition to this, at the end of the film the protagonist and Holly fall in love and stay together, whereas in the novella there is no love affair whatsoever – Holly just leaves the United States and the narrator has no idea what happened to her since then, except for a photograph of a wood carving found years later in Africa which bears a striking resemblance to Holly. In addition, there are many other changes, including major omissions, to the plot and main character in the film from the novella. Capote originally envisioned Marilyn Monroe as Holly, and lobbied the studio for her, but the film was done at Paramount, and though Monroe did independent films, including for her own production company, she was still under contract with Twentieth Century Fox, and had just completed Let's Make Love with Yves Montand.


A musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany's (also known as Holly Golightly) premiered in 1966 in Boston.[citation needed] The initial performances were panned by the critics and despite a rewrite by Edward Albee, it closed after only four performances.[26]


Three years after the musical adaptation, Stefanie Powers and Jack Kruschen starred in another adaptation, Holly Golightly (1969), an unsold ABC sitcom pilot. Kruschen's role was based on Joe Bell, a major character in Capote's novella who was omitted from the film version.


There have been two adaptations of the novella into stage plays, both directed by Sean Mathias. The first production was written by Samuel Adamson and was presented in 2009 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London, starring Anna Friel as Holly Golightly and Joseph Cross as William "Fred" Parsons.[27][28] The second version was written by Richard Greenberg for a 2013 Broadway production at the Cort Theatre, starring Emilia Clarke as Holly Golightly, Cory Michael Smith as Fred, and George Wendt as Joe Bell.[29] The Greenberg play was produced in the UK in 2016, called "a play with music". It ran at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End in June to September 2016, with Pixie Lott starring as Holly Golightly.[30]


  1. ^ "Books Today". The New York Times: 32. 28 October 1958.
  2. ^ A March 1968 interview with Playboy contains the following exchange:

    Playboy: Would you elaborate on your comment that Holly was the prototype of today's liberated female and representative of a "whole breed of girls who live off men but are not prostitutes. They're our version of the geisha girl..."?
    Capote: Holly Golightly was not precisely a call girl. She had no job, but accompanied expense-account men to the best restaurants and night clubs, with the understanding that her escort was obligated to give her some sort of gift, perhaps jewelry or a check ... if she felt like it, she might take her escort home for the night. So these girls are the authentic American geishas, and they're much more prevalent now than in 1943 or 1944, which was Holly's era.

    Norden, Eric (March 1968). "Playboy Interview: Truman Capote". Playboy. Vol. 15, no. 3. pp. 51–53, 56, 58–62, 160–162, 164–170. Reprinted in:

  3. ^ "Hello I'm Holly". The Times. London. 7 February 2004.
  4. ^ a b c d Clarke, Gerald (2005). Capote: A Biography. Carroll & Graf Publishers. pp. 94–95, 313–314. ISBN 0-7867-1661-4.
  5. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (24 July 2003). "Carol Matthau, a Frank and Tart Memoirist, Dies at 78". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "Maeve Golightly?". 25 October 2004. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  7. ^ "Doris Lilly; Author, Columnist". Los Angeles Times. 11 October 1991.
  8. ^ "Dorian Leigh: 'Supermodel' of the 1940s". The Independent. London. 14 July 2008.
  9. ^ "The story behind the song: Moon River". The Daily Telegraph. 7 October 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  10. ^ a b c Green, Penelope (6 November 2020). "Marguerite Littman, the Inspiration for Holly Golightly, Dies at 90". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 7 November 2020. Retrieved 8 November 2020. Ms. Littman, who landed in Los Angeles at midcentury, counted among her closest friends ... Truman Capote, who is said to have distilled that charm into his most famous character, Holly Golightly of 'Breakfast at Tiffany’s.'
  11. ^ Churchwell, Sarah (5 September 2009). "Breakfast at Tiffany's: When Audrey Hepburn won Marilyn Monroe's role". The Guardian (Manchester). Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  12. ^ Clarke, chs. 11–13.
  13. ^ Rudisill, Marie; Simmons, James C. (1983). Truman Capote: The Story of His Bizarre and Exotic Boyhood by an Aunt who Helped to Raise Him. William Morrow. p. 92.
  14. ^ Sagolla, Lisa Jo (2003). The Girl who Fell Down: A Biography of Joan McCracken. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press. p. 110. ISBN 1-55553-573-9.
  15. ^ Clarke, p 308.
  16. ^ Plimpton, George (ed.) Truman Capote Doubleday, 1997. pp 162-163.
  17. ^ Wise, Kelly (ed.) Portrait: Theory Lustrum Press, 1981. p 7.
  18. ^ "Truman Capote's Papers". Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  19. ^ Capote, Truman; Attie, David (2015). Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir: With the lost photographs of David Attie. New York: Little Bookroom. ISBN 978-1936941117.
  20. ^ "Manuscript of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" up for auction". CBS News. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  21. ^ "Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's manuscript sells for $306K at auction to Russian billionaire". The Star (Toronto). Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. Associated Press. 26 April 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  22. ^ "Review of Sally Bowles and Breakfest at Tiffany's – Open Letters Monthly – an Arts and Literature Review". Archived from the original on 19 August 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  23. ^ Rudisill, Marie; Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 100.
  24. ^ "Breakfast at Tiffany's".
  25. ^ Mailer, Norman (1959). Advertisements for Myself. Harvard University Press. p. 465. ISBN 0-674-00590-2. ...he is the most perfect writer of my generation, he writes the best sentences word for word, rhythm upon rhythm. I would not have changed two words in Breakfast at Tiffany's which will become a small classic.
  26. ^ Davis, Deborah (2007). Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and his Black and White Ball. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 141–142. ISBN 978-0-470-09821-9.
  27. ^ Sookdeo, Niqui (17 July 2009). "Dreyfus to join cast of Breakfast at Tiffany's". The Stage. Retrieved 20 September 2009.
  28. ^ "West End Breakfast for Anna Friel", BBC News, 15 May 2009
  29. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Broadway's Breakfast at Tiffany's Sets Closing Date" Archived 2 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine, 15 April 2013
  30. ^ Cavendish, Dominic. "Pixie Lott ticks all the boxes in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' – review" The Telegraph, 28 July 2016

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